Layering Up on Clothes for Backpacking the Grand Canyon

After obtaining the permit to backpack in the Grand Canyon the next step was to figure out how to prepare for this adventure. While my mind raced in a million directions, I had to constantly remind myself to take it one step at a time.

The first step I could take to prepare was to plan out my clothing options. Layering your clothing can be a life saver while out on the trails. If you get too hot, just take off a layer and if you get too cold, add a layer.

From researching the best types of layering options, I discovered that the key is to wear clothing that will keep your skin dry and warm. If a part of your body is wet and cold then you will likely be miserable while hiking due to chaffing and blisters.

silhouette and grayscale photography of man standing under the rain
Do not let this be in while backpacking

Base Layers

So to keep the core of my body dry and warm I first layered up in a base layer. The purpose of the base layer is to wick the sweat away from your body. Similar to those dry wicking work out shirts. In fact, you could wear one of those shirts as a base layer.

There is a variety of base layer material available. There is a synthetic material option, which will likely be the lowest cost option. Clothing of this material, gets the job done, but can start to stink after a while. Other materials such as wool, will cost more money but feels better on the body and won’t start to stink as soon.

I decided to wear a Smart Wool long sleeve base layer shirt with a synthetic material pants for this hike. To me, it was worth spending more on the shirt because I knew I would be wearing that the entire time, versus the pants which I knew I would likely take off while down in the Canyon.

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Base Layer shirt and my hiking pants, with a base layer of pants underneath

Mid Layers

The mid layer is more like the normal clothes you will be wearing. You just wear these on top of the base layer. So I had my North Face hiking pants on, which was also water repellant and a Kuhl zip up fleece shirt on. This fleece shirt was more money than what I wanted to spend. But, it felt warmer while still feeling light and comfortable on my body. So I opted to spend more versus then just buying a normal fleece shirt at Target or a similar store.

 

Outer Shell

The outer shell is the last layering of clothing. Usually, your coat and if necessary snow pants. While I didn’t need an outer shell for my legs, I did need a coat.

I opted to wear an REI backpacking coat. This coat was again, light weight but still kept me warm. It could handle temperatures down to 30 degrees and even had air vents that I could open up while hiking, if I felt too warm. It also was rain proof and had a hood with a visor. I felt these would be important qualities to have in a jacket for this trip, seeing as how I had to prepare for all weather.

S.Kalbib 1

And then I had my wool hiking socks and hiking shoes. I also brought a pair of waterproof gloves, a winter hat and a multipurpose headwear that could cover my neck if too cold or I could use as a headband. (It came in extremely useful.)

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This multipurpose headware around my neck, was the best investment ever. Used as a hat, a headband and to protect my neck from the sun.

If you are planning on going to the Grand Canyon in March, I would suggest layering up the same way that I did. Although, this is why it’s important to check the weather before your planned hiked and make sure that you will be comfortable in that. Obviously if you are going in warmer weather you may not need an outer shell but you need to make sure the clothes you are wearing will be comfortable and will keep you dry.

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Obtaining a Permit for the Grand Canyon

I recently just came home from a backpacking trip down into the Grand Canyon. It was amazing and I think that everyone should go experience it. The pictures I took, don’t even do it justice. It’s one of those places you can only really experience it, by actually going there and seeing it with your own eyes.

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With that said, I am going to write some pieces about our adventure and how we made this dream a reality. Hopefully this information will help you to make this ultimate backpacking trip a reality of yours as well.

This was my first time ever hiking the Canyon and at times we weren’t sure how to prepare or what to expect. I could write one big article about everything, but I think that would be too overwhelming. Instead I’m going to break it down into the separate steps we took to make it happen.

Alright, so the first few steps you need to take…is to plan out your adventure and then apply for a permit.

Planning Your Grand Canyon Adventure

Before you can apply for your permit you will need to know which trails you want to take, which campground you want to stay at, the dates of your trip and the amount of people who will be with you.

Trails

When looking at the Grand Canyon trails from a map, it can be a little overwhelming. The Grand Canyon is huge!!! We decided to take the popular trails along the South Rim, down to the Canyon. We did debate whether to do a rim to rim trip, but decided that since this was our first time we would just go on the two most popular trails and enjoy more time at the bottom of the Canyon. So, these two trails that are located along the South Rim, in the Grand Canyon Village is the South Kaibab trail and the Bright Angel Trail. These two trails are very different from each other.

South Kaibab

This trail is just a little over 7 miles long. It is the shortest route to the bottom, which also means that it’s steep.  Also, there is no water stations located along this trail. For this reason, we decided to take South Kaibab down. We personally, felt better going down the steeper trail versus going up with no additional water. This trail is very scenic and feels as if it’s taking you all over the Canyon.

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The Bright Angel Trail

This hiking trail is just over 9 miles long. It is longer but that means that it is more gradual than South Kaibab. It also has numerous areas where water stations can be found. For this reason, we felt it was best to do while hiking up. It’s offers amazing lookout views of the Canyon and will run through some creeks and you may even get to see a waterfall or two, if you’re lucky!

So, we knew these were the trails and the directions we wanted to take them. The South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail up.

Campgrounds

There are three main campgrounds located within the Canyon. When you apply for your permit, you are also going to be telling them which campground you want. For our trip, we decided that the Bright Angel Campground would be the best. It is located just past the bottom on the other side of the Colorado River. Since we were planning on just relaxing and doing some exploring, this seemed like the perfect place to camp!

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Bright Angel Campground

There is also Indian Gardens, that is located half way up the Bright Angel Trail. This would be a good spot for those camping back up or for those who are not planning on going all the way down to the bottom. The third campground is Cottonwood, which is located along the Northern portion. There are some other options as well…

Phantom Ranch is located very close to the Bright Angel Campground. This area has cabins and dorms that people can stay in, and you can even purchase food and beer here. There are also areas within the Canyon that are not labeled as campgrounds, but you are able to set up camp. At this moment, I’m not sure where all those areas are located or how to go about obtaining a permit. But I do know it’s another option.

Dates

On the permit application you need to put in the dates that you want to do this. So, you have to apply for the permit, four months in advance. If you’re applying in November, then the dates you would be looking at would be sometime in March. So, think about the time of year that you want to go and then apply for the permit four months before that.

The busiest months for the Grand Canyon is in April and October, due to the wildflowers and perfect temperatures. Summer is going to be hot. It’s always warmer in the Canyon, so in the summer temperate can reach up to 120 degrees. During winter it is likely that their will be snow and ice among the upper portion of the canyon, but again it will be warmer in the actual canyon.

We went in March and it was in the 30s at night at the rim and in about the 50s in the Canyon. For staying inside the Canyon, I thought it was a good temperature.

Amount of Hikers

So, this could be one of the most important decisions you make that will either make or break your Grand Canyon backpacking experience. Are you going to have a fun time with the people that you are hiking down with? You don’t want to share this experience with someone who you may find annoying after a few days or someone who complains a lot, and so on. This trip is going to be magical, so make sure you’re with positive people who will enjoy it.

So, think about these things first and do some research before just applying for the permit.

Once you feel confident in your decisions, fill out this permit application request. You will want to submit it on the first of the month (again, you’re applying four months in advance). So, if you want to go in March, then you will be submitting this application on November 1st. Or you can submit it 10 days before the 1st, but the application will still be picked out by random. It’s not a first come first serve operation.

The only way to submit this application is my mail or fax. So, while this does seem like an ancient process…that’s how it works. You will not be charged money for the application but once you are accepted the permit will cost $10, plus $8 a night for every person.

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It only took us two tries to obtain the permit. So, hopefully you have good luck with it as well! We first tried to apply for October but were denied. We tried again for a March date and we got it!

So, that’s the one big first step that you have to take. Figure out the plan and then apply! And if you get denied, just keep trying. It’ll be worth it!

 

The Day Flat Iron Beat all the Hikers

This past weekend, it actually snowed around the Phoenix area. Well, let me rephrase that…

It snowed on the tops of the mountains around the Phoenix area.

Due to this, all different types of hikers could be found up in the mountains to get a chance to play in the snow, which we so rarely get.

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Flat Iron is that big cliff in the center

Me? I actually had plans with my sister, Mel to hike up to Flat Iron. We are preparing for our backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon and trying to do a lot of hiking with our packs on. Seeing as how this hiking trail is one of the most difficult in the Phoenix area, we figured if we could make it up Flat Iron we could make it up the Grand Canyon.

We’ve made it up to Flat Iron before, but doing it with our packs on is a completely different experience. This trail is very steep and requires scrambling in certain areas.

The further up we went the more ice and snow started appearing. While this was beautiful to see, due to the steepness of the trail it also became pretty scary.

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For me, a hiker in Phoenix, I’ve never hiked on ice before, let alone hiked a steep difficult trail on ice. So, needless to say, when we began to feel uncomfortable, we turned around.

In fact, a lot of hikers turned around. I don’t think anyone made it up Flat Iron last weekend. Which maybe is just what that mountain needed. A little rest from all the hikers coming up!

In fact, I was quite happy to see other hikers turning around. Knowing your limits, is the most important rule of hiking. Well, that and pack extra water!

If you get the gut feeling that something isn’t right….chances are that it isn’t. You don’t need to push for glory while hiking. If anything, pushing for glory is only asking for trouble and negative attention. Sometimes, you just are not able to complete a trail. And that’s okay. It gives you another reason to take on the challenge again in the future!

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Me & Mel in front of an unexpected waterfall

Leave No Trace

Besides me, who else on the trail has hiked past litter? Ugh. It can completely ruin the hike.

Right when you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere and one with nature, you look down to find a bright white used Kleenex laying on the dirt ground. Or a plastic water bottle. Or a Circle-K cup. Or candy wrappers. Or a variety of these items all scattered around. Nothing can take you out of the feeling of being in nature than seeing litter along the trail.

green trash bin on green grass field

I can’t understand why people would litter in the first place, but then especially while on a hike.

Along the Phoenix hiking websites and trail signs you may have noticed signs informing hikers of the “Leave No Trace” policy.  This policy is exactly how it sounds. Leave No Trace that you were ever there.

Keep nature wild, right?! Right.

So, when hiking it’s important to stay on the trail and take nothing but pictures. Even rocks that you find along the trail. You should just keep them there.

Any trash or items that you bring with you on the trail should be leaving with you as well. Typically there will be a trash can near the trailhead, so that you won’t have to carry your trash too far.

Leave No Trace, also means to leave the wildlife alone. If you spot an animal…awesome! But, keep it at that. Just watch them. Do not approach them or leave food for them. This disrupts their natural habitat.

photography of brown chipmunk eating on top of rock
Do not feed the wild animals

There are some awesome hiking groups out there that form events to pick up the trash along the trail. Let me tell you, it’s amazing to see how much trash they collect while out there. If interested you can check out this page on Keep Nature Wild’s site and look for clean-up opportunities near you.

Or you can always form your own group or individually pick up litter while your hiking. I think I might just keep a plastic bag in my pack, just for this reason.

So, while I know the readers of this post are likely the one’s to never to litter in nature, please send this on to others who may not be as informed.

adventure backpackers girls grass

 

Grand Canyon Backpacking Trip

Currently, it’s Friday night and I’m resting up. Tomorrow is the big National Trail Trek hike and I’m slowing but surely getting my pack ready for it. *mental note: do not forget the Aleeve*

person seating on bench while holding knees

But tonight, I find myself not completely being able to only focus on the 16-mile hike for tomorrow. I’m more focused about my Grand Canyon backpacking trip that is coming up in March. In fact, I’m kind of freaking out about it.

This will be my very first Grand Canyon hike. I have no idea what to expect.

When we put in for the permit, I honestly didn’t expect ours to be accepted. I’ve heard stories of people applying year after year with no luck, so I figured the chances of actually getting the permit would be slim.

But we had beginners luck and our permit was approved.  Both me and my sister couldn’t help but to wonder, did we get these permits because no one else applied to backpack in March?

Living in Phoenix, I tend to forget that other parts of Arizona actually experience dramatic changes with the seasons. When I think March, I think, “all right, it’ll be a little warm but not as brutal as what May might be. So, yea March sounds good.” Then as reality hit, this Michigan girl remembered it still snows in March.

ancient architecture arizona canyon

Will there be snow and ice along the trail? Am I going to slip on the ice and fall to my death in the Canyon? I know. I go dark really quickly.

I’m telling myself to be positive. It’ll be alright.

But, after going to an REI class this past week, I’ve learned that the elements of nature can kill you within four hours.  So, I think that has made me think about hiking this in March a little different than I did last week.

Which, is a good thing. It will make me be more prepared. And I’m definitely going to bring some trekking poles and an emergency warming blanket. I just need to do more research and prepare myself better than what I am right now. I think once I do that, I’ll feel a lot better.

Alright, thanks for talking that out with me.

I think it’s time to eat a good dinner and continue resting for tomorrow’s big hike. I am really excited for tomorrow! Hopefully I’m able to stay present during the entire hike and my mind doesn’t wander away thinking about the ice in the Grand Canyon.

If anyone has hiked the Grand Canyon before, I would love to know your thoughts! Especially if you’ve done it during winter!

Happy Trails!

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